Gregorian Chant Notation
This is a description of the traditional Gregorian Chant notation, so that anyone will be able to read the notation and sing it.

Chant is written in neumes, which are notes sung on a single syllable.

Gregorian Chant has no meter at all, though it does have a rhythm of groups of 2 or 3 notes.
Vertical lines separate musical phrases and may sometimes allow a pause for taking a breath, like

Chant is not in a major key or a minor key, but in modes (though there are some modes which can sound like a modern scale).

Chant is written on a 4-line staff, instead of 5 lines as music is written on now.

marks where Do is on the staff. Here it is on the third line from the bottom, so if Do is on C then the lines would go F-A-C-E.

would mean that Do is on the top line, so if Do is on C the notes on the lines would be D-F-A-C.

is a Fah Clef, and indicates where Fah is on the staff. Here, Do would be on the bottom space.

The Neumes

Chant notation is on the left.
The modern equivalent is on the right.
This is just a single note
This is the same as a punctum.

Podatus (pes)
When one note is written above another note like this,
the bottom note is sung first, and then the note above it.

Clivis (flexa)
When the higher note comes first, it is written like this.

Three or more notes going upward.

Three or more notes going upward, but the middle one has a vertical episema:
that note is slightly lengthened.

Three or more notes going downwards.

Torculus (pes flexus )
Three notes that go up and then back down.

Porrectus (flexus resupinus)
A high note, a low note, and a high note.
The line starts at the first note and goes down to the middle note.

Scandicus flexus
Four notes, going up and then dropping down.

Porrectus flexus
A porrectus with a low note on the end.

Climacus resupinus
The opposite of a scandicus flexus.

Torculus resupinus

Pes subbipunctus
One note up and two notes down.

Virga subtripunctis
Four notes in a row, going downwards.

Virga praetripunctis
Four notes in a row, going up.

Liquescent Neumes

Epiphonus (liquescent podatus)
Little notes lose some of their fullness
because they are sung on a complicated syllable.

Cephalicus (liquescent flexa)
In liquescent neumes that look like this,
The top note comes before the bottom note!

Pinnosa (liquescent torculus)
Again, the top note comes before the note underneath.

Porrectus liquescens
The little note always comes last.

Scandicus liquescens
The little note is highest.

This is marked by a jagged line in the middle.
The first note is held a little longer than the middle one.

These are other ways of showing that a note is held:

One is by putting a dot (punctum-mora) after the note.
It is a little bit like a dotted note in modern music.

The second way of showing that a note is held is by having more than one of the same note in a row on the same syllable.
This is called a repurcussive neume.

A horizontal line (episema) above a neume means to hold the note, or slow down, a little like rit. in modern music.

A vertical line (episema) written under a note means it has a mild emphasis, like an accent mark.

There is one accidental that may be used in Chant notation, it is the B-flat which does look a lot like the modern B-flat
Sometimes the flat sign can be written at the beginning instead of in front of the note, and then it's like a key signature. Otherwise, it only lasts for one word.

At the end of a line of chant, a little, skinny note (custos) is written to show what note is coming up next in the following line.

If you appreciate this web page and would like to chip in a couple dollars to help keep it going, you can send it here:
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And that is how to read Gregorian Chant notation!

guitar There are some chants in Guitar notation on another page on this site.

Blank Gregorian chant four-line sheet music is available in printable format,
and if you have sheet music in Acrobat-readable format, you can use a PDF converter.

CD.gif Jeff Ostrowski at the St. John Mary Vianney Choir in Kansas is selling
CD's of Gregorian Chant music on his web site at
and Summi et Aeterni Sacerdoti CD

LPH The LPH Resource Center for Catholic Homeschoolers
has elementary-level classes available in Latin and Music.

You can write to me at: Rick Kephart < >

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